Even with a timeless script, a group of professional actors, and a veteran director’s perspective the same rehearsal rhetoric still applies.
Last month I took in as many rehearsals for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as possible. The above components seem like the basis for going beyond rehearsal as usual, right? What I was surprised to hear from the director was, “how does it feel?” The cliche of this line resonates in the bodies of performers everywhere. It comes from the idea that a performer’s instincts trump the meticulous plans of the director. A good director/choreographer knows this.
What interests me the most about this question is what seems to be a disconnect from the director (all seeing) to the actor (all feeling) even though there is very little. This is not to say that the director doesn’t understand the feelings being conveyed in the scene — far from it, nor does the performer fail to understand the picture being created. The contrast to the question “how does it feel?” is thrown back onto the director by the cast with “how does that look?” The actors, short of videotaping their performance, may never know how they actually look on stage. Clarity is the goal. Having two people swing dance to “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” might be a mixed message. Rehearsals are spent clarifying those moments with two very different perspectives — physical and emotional — both performers and directors are constantly hunting for the real moments to be shared with the audience.
In the tempest of creating a production there are a few guiding lights a director must work by, including telling the story. The positions of bodies on stage tells just as much about the characters as the words coming out of their mouths. One of my favorite directors once told me, “If Romeo can reach Juliet in the balcony there is no reason for them to elope, and the play is over. You can’t just give the passion away for free in this show….” The creation of this feeling, the need to be together, the desire, is the fuel for what happens next. And it is important that we want to know what happens next in the story. So how does Romeo feel if he can’t reach his Juliet? How does it look that he’s hiding under the balcony?
It is incredibly important for the performers to say that their given blocking feels right. They must confirm that the blocking, the energy, the thoughts, the concepts, the themes all match through their actions on stage. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s often because it isn’t right. The performer’s instincts keeps the director’s meticulous plans on course.